Office of Economic Development’s ‘Pathways to Careers’ Program Highlighted

In the January, 13 2013 issue of The Seattle Times “NW Jobs” section, the Seattle Office of Economic Development’s (OED) Pathways to Careers program was highlighted for its effectiveness in workforce training. The article discusses the exciting predictions about Washington’s workforce growth in 2013. Many forecasters agree that Washington (especially Puget Sound) is poised for a robust 2013 in terms of job growth.

Pathways to Careers is a program that OED and numerous partners developed with the Seattle Community Colleges system to teach middle skills to workers involved in business IT; health care; manufacturing and industrial work; and international trade, transportation, and logistics. Middle skills are jobs skills that require some education and training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree.

OED’s Workforce Development Manager Matthew Houghton was a major contributor to the piece, providing comments about the current outlook for local workforce development and the strategies that will help workers obtain jobs in various industries.



See below for the full text from The Seattle Times blog post: 

“Gains from Cranes: Modest Job Growth for Seattle Area in 2013”

By Randy Woods / Special to NWjobs

In spite of the lingering concerns over the slow economic recovery and the 286,000 people still out of work statewide, many forecasters agree that Washington, and especially the Puget Sound region, is poised for what could be a robust 2013.

“Our forecast in November showed that from the end of 2011 to the end of 2012, Washington state gained 60,000 jobs,” says Steve Lerch, chief economist and executive director of the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC). The leisure and recreation category increased by 9,400 new jobs in 2012. “This is a good sign that people are feeling more comfortable spending their discretionary income.”

The ERFC’s latest forecast is for employment to grow modestly, by an average of 1.9 percent each year between 2013 and 2017, “as improving construction employment growth more than offsets declining manufacturing growth and the reductions in government employment subside.”

“However the country recovers from the recession, we’re going to be in much better shape than anywhere else,” says Matt Houghton, workforce development manager for the Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED).

Construction resurfaces
Another way to predict job growth is to look out your window and count the active construction cranes.

While the Puget Sound area is not approaching the levels of its pre-recession building boom, the region is beginning to see a return of activity in the construction sector, which seemed all but dead just two years ago.

At a press event last month, Butch Brooks, president of the Associated General Contractors of Washington (AGCWA) and owner of Brooks Construction Management, stood in his hard hat before the partially demolished Alaskan Way Viaduct to announce some rare good news for his industry. After losing nearly 30,000 jobs during the recession, the construction sector in the Puget Sound region had rebounded in 2012, growing by 10 percent and adding 6,500 new jobs.

“There are more people working in construction in this area today than at any given time since the summer of 2009,” Brooks says. “Indeed, only Houston, Texas, added more construction jobs than Seattle did during the past year.”

Much of this work, he adds, is coming not only from major infrastructure projects such as the viaduct replacement tunnel and the new state Route 520 bridge, but also from private-sector expansion from companies such as in South Lake Union.

And the housing sector is starting to look good again, says the ERFC’s Lerch. “Agents are reporting more multiple bids on houses and values are starting to rise,” he says.

According to the ERFC’s Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast report from November, these developments should translate into about 5,800 new construction jobs statewide, or a 4 percent gain, by the end of 2013. This trend is expected to continue, with a 6.5 percent employment increase in 2014 and an 8 percent rise in 2015.

Health care is where IT’s at
The positive signs in construction are encouraging, but the health care and tech fields continue to drive the Puget Sound economy.

For the next few years, both of these industries should converge to meet the demands of a single piece of legislation: the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which offers financial incentives to health-care companies that adopt electronic health-record systems. This stimulus, however, is scheduled to run out in 2015, so many hospitals are scrambling to digitize their records.

“If they don’t hit the deadline in 2015, their Medicare reimbursement could be reduced, which could be catastrophic,” says Debbie Crandall, president and CEO of Parker Staffing Services, which specializes in finding health-care IT professionals.

To make matters more frantic, Crandall says, nearly all hospital networks use the same Epic software system, which requires specific training available only through Epic. “There are only so many people you can train every year, so the talent war is huge between hospitals,” she says. “Our business is up by about $3 million over 2011.”

One in eight people over age 50 in Seattle — about 30,000 people — need some form of home health-care services, the Seattle OED estimates. This is creating demand in the allied health sector, which includes positions such as rehabilitation care providers, nurse practitioners, physical and occupational therapists and speech pathologists.

Joe Schmid, senior health-care recruiter at Maxim Healthcare Services, says there is a dire need for trained candidates in the allied health field, especially for those who have mastered laboratory skills and can operate medical imaging technology, such as MRIs, ultrasounds, CT scans and X-ray machines.

A focus on ‘middle skills’
Finding qualified candidates is always a nagging issue for recruiters, but it’s a problem that seems to get worse each year. According to the Seattle OED,Microsoft reportedly has more than 3,400 job openings in computer science and engineering, but is having immense difficulties finding people with the necessary skills.

Until this issue can be solved, the Seattle OED is making a push to raise the overall quality of the Seattle workforce with a focus on so-called middle skills — those requiring some education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree. Houghton says about two-thirds of available jobs that pay a decent middle-class wage will require at least a post-secondary, associate-level education.

In a program called Pathways to Careers, the Seattle OED has coordinated with the Seattle Community Colleges system to teach these middle skills in fields such as business IT; health care; manufacturing and industrial skills; and international trade, transportation and logistics.

“These are some of the best programs you can find to get in and get out quickly into the workforce,” Houghton says. “You can take two quarters to make yourself employable somewhere, and then come back for another quarter to learn new skills and move up to a new position.”

Another successful way to stand out with hiring managers is to land an internship with a skilled trade. Bob Kirkbride, owner of Kirkbride Associates, a placement firm for the heating, ventilating and air conditioning service industry, complains that most young college grads never gain any real-world sales or marketing experience while they are in vocational school.

Kirkbride’s nephew had a paid summer internship with a design contractor while studying construction management at Central Washington University. “He learned how to work with crews and picked up project management skills,” Kirkbride says. “He already has two job offers.”